There are some broad comparisons out there that try to paint Call of Duty Warzone as the mature FPS version of Epic’s more family friendly Fortnite. While many of those comparisons are fair, the reality is much more nuanced, particularly in the broader goals of the two enormous games. Still, as different as Warzone is from Fortnite, there are certain lessons that can be learned, and influences that could carry Warzone to new heights that it wouldn’t be able to achieve otherwise. Which is why Call of Duty Warzone needs to embrace its crazier ideas and the over-the-top collaborations that could bring in a whole new audience.
At this point for Fortnite, crazy is the new normal. It’s not surprising anymore to see the metaverse get popular superheroes, characters from other games, or have an entire alien invasion as the crux of its latest season. In fact, the latest season adding both Superman and Rick and Morty’s Rick Sanchez is cool, but entirely expected in that it’s strange and unexpected. It would be weirder if Fortnite didn’t have these kinds of crossovers and collaborations at this point. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in these pitch meetings to find out just how they all come together in such a spectacular fashion. Because of these collaborations, people—even people who don’t typically like Fortnite—pay attention to Fortnite.
Fortnite has brought together the PlayStation-exclusive Kratos and Xbox-exclusive Master Chief in one game. It’s hosted virtual concerts with larger than life stars using the game’s world as their stage. It’s screened films for players. It’s been a key piece of social influence in Epic’s fight against Apple. Its seen bizarro events that change up the very fundamental elements of gameplay in big ways. It’s sucked the entire game into a black hole and shut it down for a couple of days while waiting for the next iteration of the game to launch. Fortnite is constantly trying to one up itself, surprising players with shocking new events and ways of evolving the game.
Call of Duty Warzone has gently explored these kinds of surprising and shocking moments, crossovers, and events, and they’ve consistently been some of the best experiences Warzone has ever had. They used Warzone to reveal Black Ops Cold War via a thrilling in-game event. Verdansk was cast into night and became haunted, crossing over with horror franchises Saw and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Verdansk was infested with Zombies (via a ship that traveled through the aether from the past), and was subsequently nuked to handle the situation. While the culminating event was ultimately not all that engaging, the season-long lead up to the destruction of Verdansk was a fascinating series of events.
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Most recently, we’ve seen Warzone lean into this absurdity even more with the ’80s Action Heroes event. This was a huge crossover with the Die Hard and Rambo film franchises, complete with crazy fun game modes across both Warzone and Black Ops Cold War, and the ability for players to buy Rambo and John McClane operators. It’s genuinely the most “Fortnite” that Warzone has been, but even that description doesn’t feel apt. Call of Duty is doing it’s own thing, applying this kind of collaboration across multiple linked games, and letting it bleed into the regular multiplayer of Black Ops Cold War. And I absolutely couldn’t get enough of Die Hardpoint, the new version of Hardpoint that was named after Die Hard and had elements of Speed and Crank woven throughout.
Over in Verdansk, Raven dropped Die Hard’s Nakatomi Plaza into the middle of downtown and seeded the map with Survival Camps based on Rambo. The event proper may be done, but those locations remain, at least for the time being. And telling people they can play as John McClane and/or Rambo? Well I’ve seen that very fact turn a few heads that may have otherwise never looked in Warzone’s direction.
The lesson here is to broaden horizons; Both Call of Duty and Fortnite are often criticized by people, most of which who probably haven’t even played either game. That’s the nature of being a mainstream successful monolith. But even the most vocal naysayers have undoubtedly been caught off guard by the addition of certain characters or announcements of certain events. I’ve personally never been into Fortnite, but I have to admit that I am constantly looking in its direction with each new season, crossover, and event. It’s only a lack of time and an inordinate amount of self control that keep me from jumping into Epic’s metaverse zeitgeist, a rabbit hole I absolutely know I would lose all my time and money to if I let myself.
On the other hand, I am an active Call of Duty player (a bizarre sentence that I never thought I would utter even as recently as three years ago). And what keeps me coming back is when the teams at Treyarch, Raven, and all the other groups Activision has on Call of Duty really change things up in big and surprising new ways. Exciting new twists on old modes like Die Hardpoint and Rambo’s Gun Game. Infesting all of Verdansk with ghosts and other things that go bump in the night. Even my very first gateway into Warzone was through a love for Plunder, something that turned the usual battle royale formula on its head. Ans yes, I absolutely forked out Call of Duty Points for the McClane Operator, loving every second of hearing classic lines from the original movie while playing. Yippe Ki Yay, motherfucker.
Warzone (and likewise Black Ops Cold War) is at its best when its embracing the crazy, the absurd, the over-the-top. It’s most engaging when it breaks stride from the expected Call of Duty formula and genuinely surprises people, whether they be long time players or people who happened to see Rambo in some marketing materials. Sure, we probably aren’t going to see the entire DC and Marvel multiverses make their way to Verdansk anytime soon, but did we really expect Bruce Willis’ John McClane or Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo either? Let’s be honest, nobody saw that one coming. (And now that I think about it, there are certain gun-toting comic characters like Deadpool or The Punisher that would fit well enough within the Call of Duty universe.)
It’s the best lesson to learn from Fortnite. Expect the unexpected. If Activision, Treyarch, Raven, and developers on future Call of Duty releases can continue to lean into this kind of “mature metaverse” of crossovers and licensed content accompanying exciting new ways to play, Warzone (and Call of Duty as a whole) can attract an entirely new audience of curious players who just want to see what’s coming next while thrilling everyone else who has poured hundreds of hours into their games. It’s what’s bringing me back to play again and again in June, when usually I’ve set down the yearly multiplayer title long before now.
Season Four is just around the corner, and I can’t wait to see what they have planned. Here’s hoping it’s leaning into the unexpected, surprising and delighting players in the craziest of ways.